WLTM : Open Call for interested (and interesting) illustrators and print-makers…


Talking Birds is looking for illustrators and/or print-makers for a small series of planned commissions related to The Nest, which will be the company’s new home and shared making space from 2021.

At this stage, we are looking to create a small pool of interested illustrators and/or printmakers who we will then invite to apply for these commission opportunities.

Talking Birds is particularly interested to hear from illustrators and/or printmakers:
– who live and/or work in Coventry or nearby;
– who self-identify as belonging to an under-represented or marginalised group;
– whose work lends itself to screen printing in one or two colours only.

A bit about you (How to register your interest)

Please email TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com and tell us a bit about yourself, your interests and your work (in roundabout 500 words) & include links to up to 5 representative pieces of your illustration and/or print-making work. From these submissions, we will select a number of artists to whom we will circulate commission briefs when they become available. Please note that the deadline for expressions of interest is December 10th 2020.

A bit about us (Who *are* Talking Birds anyway?)

Coventry-based Talking Birds is well known for its innovative and gently provocative projects which explore, and seek to illuminate, the profound and complex relationships between people and place.

These projects include its Theatre of Place performances in disused hospitals, cattle markets or underground car parks; its submersive Whale-shaped mini-theatre which swallows audiences in small groups; its pop up social events which bring people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places, often over food; and the invention of its in-pocket captioning system, The Difference Engine, which aims to revolutionise the creative possibilities of accessibility.

The Nest will be Talking Birds’ new home and shared making space which is due to open next year during Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. Since 2018, Talking Birds has been running the Nest Residency Programme (which offers time, space and conversations that allow artists to think, experiment and take a punt on one of those ‘What if…?’ ideas) peripatetically while the building work continues.

We are a signatory to the More Than A Moment pledge and, as such, wholeheartedly commit to ensuring equity, investment in, and opportunities with and for Black artists and creatives within our organisation’s culture and work, and in doing so becoming the change we all need to see.


[Illustrations by James Bourne for Song for a Phoenix, commissioned for the day when the Olympic Torch visited Coventry in 2012]

Tipping Point

Angela Mhlanga reflects on her Nest Residency.

Have you ever thought about the concept of ‘throwing away’? Neither had I, until I had a very interesting Google chat with Dominic of Ludic Rooms (a company based right here in Coventry). The gist of the conversation came from this concept of ‘throwing away’? What does this even mean? Where does all this stuff go? Stuff just moving from one to place to another. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ‘all things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage’. I pondered this on one of my now regular walks along Coventry’s Canal path. I had not long discovered the small minority in the city who ‘magnet fish’ in the murky waters. What on earth is that, you may ask? I indeed had the same question. The man made canal, built for the purpose of transporting/exchanging goods from county to county and once functioning as an additional life line to the city, has now become somewhat of a dumping ground of antiques and lost treasures but for the most part, a passing place of plastic and takeaway boxes. This bothers, but the silver lining is Coventry’s up and coming rise and it’ll be interesting to witness the Canal’s placement in all these developments.

Having these interesting and dynamic conversations with Dominic about Coventry’s relationship with water formed a unique focal point to explore – as for the most part Coventry is pretty much land locked.

On a not so particular day, I walked out of my front door and realized that I just about walked every direction out from my front door. I then remembered the entry to the canal – bridge number five to be specific. Off I went and set off for a new adventure. It was around about midday that I realized everybody and their mother was outside using their government issued hour – so it was not so much of the solitary walk I’d envisioned, but on that given day that’s exactly what I needed. Like a radio frequency all the bars within me had gone from red then slowly orange/yellow and just like that, green. The spring in my step restored as I gazed upon the boats, whistling with birds, dodging fast paced cyclists in balletic pirouettes as if living some sort of alternate musical reality.

The feeling didn’t last too long as I approached the long and dimly lit tunnel towards Gallagher – did I mention it was long? The solitude I’d initially hoped for somehow became very apparent. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept moving. I began to think back about how I discovered the Canal, it was about two years after we’d moved to the city. It’s an easy miss but there’s a life force of its own that runs underneath the city. Back then the waters were clean-ish (well there wasn’t as much rubbish everywhere). Though this first walk was initially relaxing but the rubbish was always drifting in the corner of my mind.

A few months later, my sister and I took a walk in the opposite direction on a sunny day. The clear blue sky reflecting in the man-made waters, ducks in a row flowing in a steady stream and somehow coinciding with the piles of takeaway boxes, plastic bottles, foil paper and blue off licence bags.

One object in particular called out to me the most and I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the Canal for my Talking Birds residency. Particularly the scattered blue bags from off licence shops and Coventry market that have somehow found their way to waters. Blue in association with water usually represents serenity but the murky waters of the Canal were anything but, as the blue drifting around posed a looming threat for all the natural creatures trying to cohabit with the trash in this space.

Walking along and also noticing the reflections and shadows cast in the water inspired me to further explore the Canal’s essence.

Though scenic for the most part and providing a sense of ease and solace with a gentle movement of current, every so often that is disturbed by litter. Beer bottles, takeaway boxes and strikingly blue off- licence plastic bags (which I found particularly interesting as blue is Coventry’s color and often associated with water.) I explored this further – particularly in how the nature of the canal has adapted to this.

The materials used to create the puppet were a blue off licence bags with a plastic water bottle (magnet) fished from the water to create the bodice, synched in with the cuff of a Culture Coventry uniform.

I then painted a background of hues on foil paper that feature a silhouetted crowd representative of the people of Coventry.

To add to the final layer of the piece- I used a blue marker to draw some of what Coventry is best known for, for example-: the statue of Frank Whittle, the logo for Coventry FC, Lady Godiva’s statue and an Outline of the Coventry Cathedral.

It was crucial to use materials that would cope with being submerged and not affected by the water- much like the litter found in the Canal.

Final projections

Filmed with a highlighted plastic bottle lens cap to create a filtered effect whilst in a way symbolically filtering Canal waters and revealing the beauty of the city. I hope to further explore this project with the help of the amazing Talking Birds company with the first flight residency and collaborating with Ludic Rooms. My aim is to help clean the canal, magnet fish and create sculptures from what I find in the water and rebuild the art trail. Time to to unclog our cities vessel and clean up the Canal!

“There is just wonder right in front of us, and we don’t spend enough time thinking about it.” — Michael Pollan

My artistic practice heavily involves the exploration of shadows, reflections and silhouettes. I’ve always been draw to these elements because that is the only way we can physically view ourselves. On a bright sunny day your shadowed figure mirrors your movements in synchronicity and is always right behind you. When you look at yourself in the mirror it is merely a reflection of you but somehow we’ve become accustomed to how we view ourselves this way.

As Coventry is formed of different energies, cultures and communities – I began to view the city more like a body and how the canal is a vessel. I began to value its importance and need for it. Spending a lot time around the canal has made me become consciously aware of its unconscious clogging. The level of plastic is suffocating to the environment. To detail my process: I knew I was searching for a solution and there were all these pieces of the puzzle hovering in the air, waiting to be put together. The canal is forgotten. The Art trail is abandoned. Almost as if the pieces of it were drowned in the water.

On a now regular walk along the canal path- I took my scooper and reusable bag and began my first round of magnet fishing. I picked up a lot of treasure – a blue off license bag, a plastic water bottle, foil paper, cling film and many other items but these in particular are the ones I decided to use.

Initially I had aimed to show reflections of the canal on iconic structures in Coventry (and I still might) in hopes of commenting on how, as ‘the body’ of Coventry, we view the city. I then came up with the idea of drawing iconic landmarks and statues of Coventry on cling film as I’d seen a lot of its scrunched presence surrounding the waters. I took a liking to the transparency of it but when I tested the sketches in the water, I realized that it was mainly the base of my tub that was bringing out these images. The practicality of it became unfeasible at this stage because one wouldn’t be able to see the projected images.

It was around about this time the foil paper stuck out to me, I began to think about how this would provide a perfect foreshadowing to the sketches of cling film. I thought about just having the sketches on foil paper and decided against it as the floating, threatening motion of the plastic in water differed from any other material I had found.

What can we do to make the city more ‘green’? In Coventry’s case, it’s more like, what can we do to make the city more ‘blue’? Blue like the sky or water. Blue represents clarity, stability and tranquility. In a city full of wheels and fast motion, the canal represents a break away for its residents or a moment of pause for the locals.

The lens I created from blue and pink highlighters and the bottom of a water bottle helped create the filter used in the final projection. The video itself metaphorically symbolizes the filtration of the waters whilst the sculpture, sketches and foil papered backgrounds represent the sources of materials that can be used to recreate the art trail.

When I first started this projected I’d hoped to run a lot of the tests by the canal but the sun set way late as it was still summertime then. My only other choice was to test these images in my tub – which in a sense follows suit with the man-made essence of the canal. Granted I didn’t have to adjust myself as I would have, testing outdoors but I rather enjoyed the solitary experience of forming my findings of what I had discovered from Coventry’s vessel.

For more detail about Angela’s work, visit her blog.

Home: people, objects, rituals and delineations of space

[Sinead Brady reflects on her remote Nest Residency]

From my home in the UK, I recently collaborated with Berlin based theatre maker Caroline Galvis and Dublin based theatre maker Katie O’Byrne in a ‘Hatching’ Remote Nest Residency to explore the theme of home.
Caro, Katie and I met while studying an MA in Barcelona. We found a common interest in reshaping and reframing our collective history and formed international Rule of Three Collective to create theatre that celebrates togetherness.

Before the pandemic, whilst Katie and I were visiting Caro in Berlin, we began questioning what home means to us. Since then we have had lots of time to think about our surroundings in lockdown in three different cities.
Whilst working from home, we have each been adapting to physical and political changes on a private, local and global level. This has led us to pay more attention to our own rituals and routines and question our delineations of space: What do we consider home? Why does home exist within these parameters? What is our relationship to our home, the planet?
Having started previous creative processes by writing together, we decided that this time we wanted to try to begin from a visual perspective.

At the start of the residency we had an incredibly stimulating mentoring session with Janet from Talking Birds, which helped us consider how to approach the process visually. We were inspired to draw floor plans of our houses and maps of our local areas with places which were important to us. We took each other on virtual tours of our homes and neighbourhoods. Along our routes, alternating who would lead the way, we found similarities but also many differences.

We then began to explore our ‘home rituals’ through movement and were interrupted by all of the unpredictable things that can happen when working from home such as wardrobe doors flying open when jumping on old, creaky floorboards and little neighbours determined to finish their beginner’s level recorder practice.

We ended up paying a lot of attention to the sounds in and around our houses, comparing the different bird song we wake up to… do seagulls fighting outside your bedroom window count as bird song?
Another theme which emerged in our mentoring session was the idea of building and destroying a home or the contents of a home. Experimenting with this idea fascinated us – it was tricky to explore from a distance, but it is something we plan to look at when we are physically together.

The Remote Nest Residency helped us carve out space and time and provided us with the support to come together to experiment and create. The fact that we were given no specific deadline or end product goal was invaluable and really encouraged us to keep on exploring, sharing thoughts and working in ways we would not have felt as free to do otherwise.
The residency has enabled us to reconnect and refocus. We have found new ways of working together at a distance, which will have a great impact on our creative process when we are able to be physically together again.

**If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.**

On instability, change and remembering.

Guest Blog from Artist & Writer Dan Thompson, Board Member at Talking Birds.

Here on the Kent coast, we’re well aware that the British Isles are – well, unstable. The White Cliffs of Dover stay white because they crumble, and the old chalk falls into the sea to reveal a fresh white face. Over the time we’ve been locked down, a couple of homes on the edge of the Isle of Sheppey have fallen into the sea. From the Brutalist towerblock I live in, on the front at Margate, Sheppey sits on the horizon, looking like a mysterious island from a Famous Five adventure. It’s inspired me to imagine how far coronavirus might take us, with a monologue about a country emptying out.

When you live on the coast, surrounded by crumbling cliffs, changing tides, and where a storm can reshape the beach in a few hours, collapse and change are just part of everyday life. But when I have worked in Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, or Leeds, there’s a more permanent landscape. Occasionally it throws up a surprise, like the Victorian tiled doorstep found in the precincts, but it’s fairly stable.

The coronavirus, though, has made it really clear that in the UK, 75 years since the end of Empire and after 10 years of government cuts, everything is unstable.  Not just the ground, but history itself – statues can tumble – and so can many of the assumptions we have built our country and our economy on. In Margate, an economy built on tourism was always precarious, but cities like Coventry thought a student economy was sound (just as the car industry once seemed unstoppable). It turns out, with a decline in foreign students started by Brexit and accelerated by Covid 19, and with UK students unsure about their options, it might not be.

Meanwhile, the death of the clone town – the end of big chains of shops, of every High Street looking the same – seems inevitable. I sat in on a briefing from Coventry’s city centre manager recently, while she explained that ‘The New Normal’ will be pretty much the old normal, but with bigger spaces in the queue, and more tables and chairs outside. Having worked around town centres and empty shops for 20 years now, I don’t think it is. I think this is a more radical collapse, although it may take a few more months to happen (remember that house, on the edge of Sheppey’s cliff, was there for a long time with the ground underneath being washed away with each tide, the house hanging on, the moment it fell always inevitable…).

A few months ago, on 16th March, my tough, athletic, dancer daughter was taken ill. With all the symptoms of Covid 19, she developed a fever, and delirious, was out of it for about 10 days. In that time, while she had no idea what was going on, shops boarded, schools closed, lockdown began – and when she came round she couldn’t comprehend how the world had changed. Change comes quickly.

Like her, we’re so caught up in the moment that we’re not really aware of what’s changing. So far 64,000 people have died who would, under normal circumstances, still be with us, and many – like my friend’s mum, Kathleen – have had unattended cremations. We haven’t had time to mourn yet, but with a death rate roughly equivalent to the civilian deaths in the UK during the Second World War, we will need to.

Unemployment is up, and will accelerate once the government’s Job Retention Scheme ends. While we saw queues at Primark this week, the truth is our towns and our city centres are about to fall apart. The tides are battering the bottom of the cliffs. Our education system is close to breaking too, because while teachers have tried their best, coronavirus has exposed the underlying inequalities of a system that needs families to provide textbooks, laptops, and a quiet study space. And while the government, like Jim Hacker at his Churchillian worst, say they’ve strained every sinew to save the NHS, the truth is, after years of underinvestment, it is close to collapse. A brutal Brexit would be hard in good times: but when we are, as a nation, already down it is going to have huge consequences.

And somewhere in this, we have to find a way for an organisation like Talking Birds to work. We are agile so can respond to shifting circumstances, and in good financial health: in fact, we have been able to help others during the crisis. But theatres will close, museums will shut, and galleries won’t reopen. Around three in ten of the artists, performers and small artist-led organisations that went to Arts Council England asking for help were declined.

During lockdown, people have consumed more culture than ever before. It’s often said that people don’t like ‘the arts’, but it’s the arts that writes the narrative, designs the characters and creates the settings in computer games. It’s the arts that writes the scripts and creates the characters and designs the sets for television. The arts is the music that is downloaded, the books that are read, the films watched, the dances on TikTok and the Instagram poetry.

And all that has a huge impact on the UK’s economy. The arts generate £306 million every day. They’re a bigger economic sector than the car industry, aerospace, gas, and oil – combined. The arts is jobs, is our power in the world, is our national character. Even in shifting times, the arts provide not just employment and enjoyment, but meaning. They help us explore and understand the world. The give us different perspectives, new ways of seeing. They teach empathy and kindness.

Talking Birds has been part of Coventry for nearly 30 years. As a company, it knows and loves and understands this place. With the number of the dead too big to understand, with coronavirus still spreading while other countries have halted it, with the worst recession since the 1930s ahead, and when nothing is stable, we’re going to need the arts more than ever, and Talking Birds is here for Coventry.

“There is no climate justice without an end to racism” – the Campaign Against Climate Change hits the nail on the head.

This is the text of an emailout from the Campaign Against Climate Change and, with permission, we have shared it in full here because it gives such a clear and succinct summary of the interconnectness of the fights for climate, social and economic justice.

“The brutal and casual murder of George Floyd has sparked an uprising. Protests have spread across the US and in other countries, fuelled by centuries of structural oppression and racism and a culture of impunity among the police force. The roll call of sons, fathers, daughters, grandmothers killed without justice did not start with Trump’s presidency, but he has consistently promoted racist violence in his statements and his policies.

We stand with the international protests. Black Lives Matter. And here in the UK we cannot merely see racism as a US issue. Black lives matter in police stations. Black lives matter in hospital wards and care homes, on trains and buses, in schools and colleges – the shocking disparity in BAME Covid deaths even more dramatic among health and social care staff and transport workers. Black lives matter in the ‘hostile environment’. As individuals, we must listen and learn. As climate campaigners, we must speak out.

Climate breakdown has always been an issue of racism as well as social and economic injustice. How could it be otherwise, when the Global South suffers so disproportionately from something it has done so little to cause? Environmental racism also manifests in the toxic pollution from fossil fuel extraction burdening low-income communities in many countries. This has led to the concept of ‘sacrifice zones’. But when we compromise on cutting emissions, when ‘moderation’ is prioritised over climate scientists’ stark warnings and call to urgent action, we are accepting the idea that poorer countries and vulnerable communities should all be a ‘sacrifice zone’ for the sake of short-term profit.

We must insist on climate policy that says Black Lives Matter. We must stand with those, particularly indigenous peoples, who are defending their land, water and rights against fossil fuel companies and other resource extraction.

Right now we are heading for a recession that, like the pandemic, exacerbates all existing inequalities. And governments are handing out billions to prop up high-carbon industries. Campaigning for a green recovery which is also a just transformation of society, shaped by the voices of those on the streets, demanding an end to racism and injustice – this campaign has never been more urgent.

Rest in Power George Floyd. Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. There is no climate justice without an end to racism.”


Image shows poster made for Coventry #BlackLivesMatter demo this weekend printed at Print Manufactory, using artwork by @StuffGraceMade. Photo © Print Manufactory.

Wednesday Recommendations: educating ourselves to be better allies.

“Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans. Teach her to take pride in the history of Africans and the black diaspora. Find black heroes, men and women, in history….Teach her about privilege and inequality and the importance of giving dignity to everyone who does not mean her harm” (from Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

In response to a couple of requests, this #WednesdayRecommendations post shares some of the resources that we’ve found particularly instructive in our continued efforts to educate ourselves to be both better allies, and pro-actively anti-racist. (If you are in Coventry & F13 and would like to borrow one of the books in the pic, please email us)

> TO READ (listed in photo order from the top of the pic):

What is Race? by Claire Heuchan & Nikesh Shukla

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

Black and British by David Olusoga



Seeing White (Scene On Radio series) hosted by John Biewen

The Colour Green by Julie’s Bicycle, hosted by Baroness Lola Young

About Race Podcast by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Trevor Noah on George Floyd, Amy Cooper & Racism in Society on The Daily Social Distancing Show

If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.

Brilliant Black Women Artists

Spotlight on some brilliant black women artists – friends of the Birds, collaborators, members of our Board or former Nest Residents. If you don’t know about them and their work, now’s your chance to find out…

Laura Nyahuye first worked with Talking Birds on The Cart a few years back. She is an artist, designer, storyteller and a powerhouse – have a look at Maokwo, the organisation Laura founded to fight for representation and inclusion for migrant artists. Laura also makes exquisite body adornments – think wearable sculptures infused with stories – and is a Board Member at Talking Birds.

We first met Sylvia Theuri at Spon Spun Festival, where we were really taken by her beautifully layered digital drawings and the twin cities postcard project she was showing. Sylvia was one of our early Nest Residents – working on an extension of her postcard project to explore a specific connection with Volgograd. She is now also a Board Member at Talking Birds.

Writer Liz Mytton has been working with us for a number of years, crafting beautiful poetic texts for our actors to speak. Over the last 12 months she wrote the lyrics for our Walk With Me walking tours, and scripted The Festival of Lost and Found (the show we made in Stratford in December) and Capsule, which premiered in Coventry in January 2020.

Artist-Researcher and Mother, Mel Varin, has just completed a short but fascinating experimental Work From Home Nest Residency, exploring art-making (and indeed just finding space and time to be) with her 16 month old child.

If you are a black artist based in or around Coventry, with an idea you would like to explore, please consider applying to Talking Birds’ Nest Residency Programme. There is no deadline for applications. Although at present the residencies remain Work From Home, they are extremely flexible and include access to financial and mentoring/conversational support.


Aliens, Autism, and Napping on the Floor

Katie Walters’ Nest Residency reflections:

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with space! Although not so much in the way that you might expect from an autistic person; I have very little interest in the science of it all. I don’t know much about nebulae (I had to google for the plural), or space travel, or the names of any stars beyond our own. But my artist’s brain has always loved the *idea* of space. I like how big it is. The incredible potential of infinite planets! The possibility of aliens! And how very small and insignificant that makes our Earth.

When I was 15, my interest in space was thrown into starker clarity when I received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The diagnosis itself was unsurprising. I’d always moved through the world in my own strange way, and by the time I was referred for diagnostic assessment, I was thoroughly alienated from my peer group. I already knew that I was different, and, more problematically, all the other kids knew too. But what did surprise me was how my diagnosis made me feel. Suddenly I was able to understand myself. It was like someone had turned on the lights. When I looked back over my life, for the first time, everything made sense. One of the many things I came to learn about myself was why I was so obsessed with the idea of other worlds. I wanted to believe in a world where I could make myself understood.

This is where Planet Alex came from. Planet Alex is a terrible novel that I wrote as a teenager in the aftermath of my diagnosis. And, thanks to my Nest Residency, it’s now a (hopefully less terrible) play!

Mainstream stories about autistic people usually have a few things in common: they’re about boys or men, they’re written by people who are not autistic themselves, and they address autism as a problem to be overcome. That’s a problem, because autism is not a monolith – the autistic community is vibrant, diverse, and thriving. I wanted to tell a story that was true to my experience of autism, which is strange and difficult, but ultimately very positive. As I grew older and moved on to other projects, I never stopped believing in the idea at the core of my terrible novel. I kept trying to find the right way to tell Alex’s story. My Nest Residency was the perfect opportunity to bring her to life.

I found out about Nest Residencies through a digital flyer on twitter, and knew right away that I wanted to apply. There was no pressure to produce anything, and the time was intended for experimentation. I didn’t need to worry about getting things wrong, so I was free to write something strange and new, and the opportunity was intended for disabled artists, so I knew that my access needs would be met.

As well as autism, I have a chronic illness called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). It’s a complicated condition, and how it impacts me can vary day to day. Because it’s so variable, it’s very important for me to be able to work flexibly, take regular breaks, and take time off if I need to. Talking Birds provided me with a private space to work in, where I was able to set up a makeshift bed so I could work lying down if I needed to, or even take a nap! They were also very understanding of my strange work hours, which I keep because my ME seriously disrupts my sleep and makes it very difficult for me to maintain a regular sleep pattern.

Because of the support that my Nest Residency offered, I was able to make a really solid start to Planet Alex as a play, and I have a great foundation to build on moving forward with the project. I’m really excited to find out what’s next for Alex and her alien friend, and I hope that I’m able to bring her story to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in applying for a Nest Residency, you can find more details here.

(re)valuing the labour it takes to breath, be, perform together

Melissandre Varin reflects on her Work From Home Nest Residency:

This text and selected moving and still images are an autoethnographic account of my first art residency with Eole, 16 months old. I would not have the pretention to speak for Eole, thus I wish to highlight that articulations are mine.

I discovered about home-based Nest Residencies offered by Talking Birds during the first F13 Zoom meeting following COVID-19 lockdown. I was immersed in the image of feeling/being underwater at that time. I was partly feeling this way because I thought that I will be incapable of managing my multiple roles. I was not wrong.

Making nearby Eole
(melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent April- May 2020)

I self-define as a Black queer artist-researcher PhD student doing Practice As Research while mothering 16 months old Eole. There is no strict order nor hierarchies to my roles, except that I am always other than a mother while caring 24/7 for Eole. COVID-19 lockdown forced me/us to act upon burning issues from the inside.

I re(-)member how it felt growing up both as a witness and a recipient of domestic violence – behind closed doors. Being/Feeling under the water I had to work around traumatic memories challenging the reasons why I would spend money I do not have in day care to maintain a distance between Eole and I or as I used to disguise it “to make sure that they have social interactions with other little ones”. I had to unpack the limitations of Eole’s and I’s mothering relationship, we played, with it during our residency. I ended up having a significant transformation of what I consider work, and how I perform, and I value it.

The experience of making nearby Eole was intense for the least. Eole and I were, in our own ways, challenging and articulating counter-hegemonic ways of holding conversations in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s terms (2012). In doing so we were also (re)valuing the labour it takes to breath, be, perform, together, as I distanced myself from reading (except children’s stories) and writing (ethnograffiti-interruption) – weaving embodied dialogues instead.


In this experimental approach to making nearby Eole, I facilitated ways for us to archive our work beyond our embodied memories. I took still and moving images alternatively with a smartphone or an old home digital camera as they were both sitting there, part of our home.

image3-34Jarring (melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent, 2020 + LaRi witnessing)

Early afternoon with Eole or late at night with Jb, my partner, we collected the remaining of our everyday performances at home gathered in ritualistic balayage (sweeping) followed by a jarring-process. We used a broom, a stainless dustpan and empty jars that were part of our home. This process brought me back to a master’s dissertation I wrote using a vibrant materialist approach when I was being trained in Environment and Sustainable Development. I have never undertaken paid work in this field but always felt that this baggage followed me in many ways. Here is another manifestation of it as Eole was leading the way in allowing me to lay down and critically observe the details of our living space and by extension of our relationships in/to the space.

Home was not the ultimate location of domesticity. I reduced its potential, as I (ab)used of this space attempting to domesticate it in order to construct a place where I finally belong. Divides between being with Eole in private and working in public were the heritage of a colonial/ capitalist/ white/ heteronormative/ patriarchal delimitations of my (im)possibilities. One of the roots of my complicity in partaking in this divide was my attempt to escape from what happened behind closed door during my childhood and still reproduce itself when I close my eyes.

My biggest challenge has been to have proper time to read and write. However, the fact that Eole have repeatedly negated me time to read academic books and articles gave us the opportunity to be attentive and focus on senses that I had underestimated in my artistic research. We sat together apparently doing nothing as we deepened our listening practice, listening to birds as spring unveiled, and we looked at each other. It can be framed as a political intervention into my PhD research journey as Jane Bacon write about her sitting practice (2010).

I noted that we share stories some of which have not yet been told but make us the different beings that we are. After Jenny Odell’s How to do nothing (2019), another book which I did not manage to read during the residency, but an online audio-visual presentation that Eole and I listened to, my practice is not so much embedded in a modernist idea of making but of finding. During this precious time, making nearby Eole, I found ways to take time and make space for us to be.

“I collect words from others’ mouth, fingers, and bodily performances. I re-call my present from observing my body and contemplating the most beautiful creation of mine/theirs be their own assemblages of us/them/its. I lay my body down and occupy space that I have had the privilege to imagine, to walk in, and I interrogate those who created them against marginalised others/us I ask – what if life did not have to be so complicated – for us too?

I thank you Eole for reminding me that there is more to life than throwing ‘garbage’ away by picking up, being amazed, paying your respect to the smallest, putting ‘dirt’ into your mouth, and protesting in front of me. What if I/They was/were wrong to forbid you/us to be, what if I had to learn from you to reconnect to our story, to the environment?” (nap time autoethnographic note, time: 11.23 date: 16/04/2020 location: CV56GQ)

Closely collaborating with Eole we worked around practice/notions of maintenance after performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, in-betweenness both from Homi Bhabha and from Fleur Summers, and Angela Clark (2015) and deviant (Charles Esche 2011) mothering. My practice has been politically strengthened, gradually gained in gentleness and cracked into fluidity. Eole and I have started to pave routes for us to challenge gender norms as I walked/ran shirtless as a local urban intervention inside and outside during our daily physical exercises. We have contested monolithic discourse around figures of mother and on children inspired by Haircuts by children by Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex. I have devised performances making visible gendered-racialised labours to which Eole added an extra layer of complexity https://vimeo.com/408973998.

We have immersed ourselves in flour and earth, queering conventional use of these materials to interrogate what life happening within four walls is ultimately about, drawing on racial, gendered, classist charges for a Black femme mothering a mixed-race being.

image4-36image5-38Documentation of “Of flour and Earth” (melissandre varin and Eole Varin Vincent, 2020)

We have performed for smartphone and cameras and for one another impatient to open the doors of this space to others when it is safe to do so. Eole and I spent a certain amount of time singing/screaming, laughing/crying, being as never before, and it seems appropriate to add that none of us have been hurt in the process.

I am extremely grateful for Talking Birds for supporting this deepening in my/our practice at the fictious interstices of public/private divides. Eole and I lived fully every moment of our first collaborative art-residency.

Sharing the love (chronologically):

Spivak, G. 2012, “Who Claims Alterity”, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 57.

Bacon, J . (2010) Sitting/Walking/Practice: Reflections on a Woman’s creative process, Gender forum, an internet journal for gender studies, Gender and performance. Theatre/ Dance/ Technology, Edited by Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier

Jenny Odell. 2019. How to do nothing: resisting the attention economy
2017. How to do nothing, online talk (57.29min) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNRqswoCVcM

Mierle Laderman Ukeles https://hyperallergic.com/355255/how-mierle-laderman-ukeles-turned-maintenance-work-into-art/

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York and London: Routledge.
Summers, Fleur and Angela Clarke. 2015. “In-Betweenness: Being Mother, Academic and Artist.” Journal of Family Studies 21(3):235–47.

Esche, C. 2011, “The Deviant Art Institution”, in C. Esche et al. (eds), Performing The Institution, vol. 1, Kunsthalle Lissabon, ATLAS Projectos, Lisbon.

Mammalian Diving Reflex https://mammalian.ca/projects/haircuts-by-children/


If you are interested in applying for a Work From Home Nest Residency, you can find more details here.

“There are many ways of communicating…”

Emily Woodruff reflects on her Work From Home Nest Residency:

My artistic practice had always been somewhat loosely defined, dabbling in acting, performance art, spoken word and music. After receiving an ASD diagnosis in my late-20s I found new ways of working. I developed a better understanding of how I process information, allowing me to start the transition from bedroom-headspace-artist, brimming with ideas but lacking the navigation system to see any through to completion, to an early career artist with an active practice.

When I saw Talking Bird’s Nest Residency programme it seemed like the perfect first step into a more professional practice. The knowledge that the Talking Birds team regularly work with and offer mentorship to disabled artists gave me a sense of freedom and confidence in approaching them. Not only would it give me the opportunity to work alongside a team well versed in the arts sector and local arts community, but I would be given the space and time to develop ideas in an environment where I knew I’d be able to communicate any additional needs I might have.

By the time the residency rolled around the world was operating in a significantly different landscape. I was given the option to postpone my residency or continue as planned on a work-from-home basis. I decided to focus on an alternative project I had been developing in order to allow me to get the most out of my time with Talking Birds, whilst working at a distance and in the smaller space of my spare room, and pushed on.

I’ve always been intrigued by biology and how our anatomy plays a role in how people see their own role in the world. This has developed into bigger and more cohesive ideas about the dance between corporeal reality and our inner narratives. How do our bodies inform our sense of self and shape our identity? With neurodivergence salient in my mind I began to think about how experiencing the world through a ‘different’ neurotype might also hold its own geography for how an individual experiences their identity and how the world reacts to their bodily (neurological) configuration. It had become increasingly clear to me that there was a phenomenon to be further explored in relation to receiving a late-in-life diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders and shifts in an individual’s identity. I wanted to explore people’s experiences of this and identify key patterns or changes that seemed consistent throughout these experiences. In doing so I hoped to gather the qualitative and emotional data required to produce an artistic response.

The mentorship I received was invaluable. The advice encouraged me to approach my time management with a view for longevity. This is something I’ve often struggled with, so to have someone to check in with now and then really helped me to stay on course. I started to think about how to incorporate a dialogue that extends beyond the final display of a piece of artwork into the development phase of a project.

With this in mind (and having found that questionnaires often don’t translate well for neurodiverse individuals), I started to have conversations! I put out a call online and directed it towards the neurodivergent community. Fortunately I already had a few contacts who were happy to have a discussion with me and explore their own experiences of late-diagnosis of autism. I dipped into artist Rees Finlay’s book ‘Reaffirmation: Coming to terms with an autism diagnosis’, (title says it all really) and had a great extensive call with Rees to really dig into these experiences. I also discovered the video performance by artist Kimberly Gerry-Tucker (with credit to her son Silas for filming and producing the work), Mime Project: Masking. The piece deals with autistic masking and finding acceptance, and one line really stood out to me, a thread that runs through many of the conversations I’ve been having; “I paint the squelch of Broken Sounds and TRIBE, upon my face”.

TRIBE! A word that kept seeming to float to the top of these conversations, along with a sense of transformation in finally ‘finding your tribe’. I started to further explore these patterns.

I found L.A Paul’s book ‘Transformative Experience’ and started to delve into the nature of significant shifts in identity, or, transformation. In one passage Paul discusses how some members of the Deaf community do not support the use of cochlear implants in young children. Some feel the implants alter the sensory landscape that the child was born with and prevent the child from truly experiencing the world as a Deaf individual, a unique way of being in the world that allows shared knowledge and experience as a member of the Deaf community. I considered how this distinct sensory configuration for perceiving the world, and the value that is found in knowing others have this experience too, is akin to being neurodiverse. Just as “a deaf child constructs her world in a different way, perhaps radically so”, so do ASD individuals. Therefore, just as “participating in this unique and valuable community and culture gives a deaf person a unique and intrinsically valuable experience and fosters a community that provides support for a historically oppressed segment of society”, being able to access the knowledge that you are neurodiverse may provide similar experiences to such individuals. TRIBE!

After reading of published works that deal with the subject matter and some rich conversations about first-hand experiences I began to see several phrases/key concepts arising: tribe, grief, transformation, self-acceptance, revelatory experience and vindication.

I knew I wanted to capture these ideas in a visual way – neurodiverse individuals are often very visual thinkers and communicators, sometimes better able to capture emotionally complex responses in swashes of colour than structured sentences. I also wanted my depictions of these key concepts to both connect to the real-life human experiences I’d been exploring, whilst being relatively ‘faceless’. These are almost archetypal journeys that can be accessed through a wide array of human experiences, and I wanted a wide array of experiences to be able to be brought to the table by the viewer.

As such I started to experiment with abstract portraiture, capturing gesture and emotion, not ‘pinning down’ too many distinct facial features:


I also spent some time researching colour psychology. I drew inspiration from scientific data on the effects different wavelengths can have on the brain, historical artistic uses and regional/cultural associations to play with colour to create different sensations. For example, an overabundance of yellow can give a sense of sparseness, isolation and distance from society; it’s often been used to depict outcast figures. Green is often


considered to imbue a sense of peace and a higher preference for it is seen in ASD boys compared to ‘typically developing’ boys, it’s speculated for its calming wavelength.


With my mentor’s advice about thinking ahead ringing in my ears I put together a preliminary plan as to how I could produce the response, including potential funding sources and how the work might eventually be displayed.

After playing with some quotes I’d selected from my research by adding breaks in the sentence to create alternative or multiple interpretations, I produced a ‘sample’ that incorporated the abstract portraiture and colour techniques I’d been developing.


I spent a lot of time during my residency contemplating my own artistic practice, how I operate, what works well and what changes could benefit me. I had time and ‘space’ to explore and play with techniques I may otherwise have struggled to carve out the time for. Through this reflection and my mentor’s guidance I am also taking away a very clear understanding. Dialogue with the world and potential viewer is an inherent part of the making process, not a final event.

However, I’m also taking away a sense that there is still a hegemonic narrative, a script, for how these conversations should be conducted. These scripts won’t work for everyone. Some may deal with cognitive overload in face-to-face coffee mornings that doesn’t allow for authentic expression to take place. Some may be non-verbal. Some may not be able to physically access the designated space. There are many ways of communicating that are as rich and ‘on par’ as a spoken engagement that may not be accurately translated into language. When thinking about the experience of distinct neurological configurations, L.A Paul suggests it may “…give them a unique and untranslatable, hypervisual cognitive style…”

As access to the ‘art world’ is changing, we need to reconsider alternative modes of being, processing information and constructing dialogues to provide that access.

I’d like to thank Talking Birds for the opportunity and support, and my mentor for crucial and enlightening conversations!

Rees Finlay’s ‘Reaffirmation: Coming to terms with an autism diagnosis’:

Kimberly & Silas Gerry-Tucker’s ‘Mime Project: Masking’:

L.A Paul’s Transformative Experience